Documents leaked from a Department for Education (DfE) board meeting show that Michael Gove’s massive expansion of the academies programme, and the creation of free schools, is only part of his grand plan.
The end game is to create a system where state schools are run by private companies, for profit.
Mr Gove is finding, to his cost, that running the education system centrally, from Whitehall, is an expensive business. As the leaked DfE document acknowledges: “It is difficult to see how we could manage expansion of the academies and free schools programme much beyond 5,000 without increasing central resource.”
The DfE has already overspent on the academies programme to the tune of £1 billion. It will be increasingly difficult for the government to keep subsidising academies and free schools programme to this extent – which is why the private sector is being promoted as a state school provider by right wing commentators and think-tanks.
It is interesting that the DfE document does begin to acknowledge some of the problems inherent in this plan, citing “risks” including “decreased ability to overcome resistance at local level, and more nasty surprises arising from not managing projects as closely as we have up to now”.
We have a profound philosophical and moral objection to private profit being made out of state schooling. We recognise, of course, that schools need to buy goods and services from private providers: energy, building maintenance, textbooks.
But the actuality of state schools being managed for profit is a step too far. Why? It’s simple. We want schools to be run for pupils. Privatised schools are run for profit. Honeyed words won’t cut it with teachers. We know that a surplus can only be generated by spending less on the school. There’s just no way round that.
This is a truth that parents and pupils in Miami in America know all too well, and to their cost. Miami led the way in the USA in the development of for-profit charter schools.
In December 2011, the Miami Herald ran a searing series describing the theft, fraud and corruption widely found in the sector. The examples were shocking – school students being charged more than $600 to graduate; parents being charged for their children’s classes in core subjects such as English and maths; lessons being taught in sheds; students being charged for essential text books – all in all a sorry tale of students treated as assets to be sweated by the company running their school, rather than as young people with rights to a decent education.
The Miami Herald also described widespread instances of schools being leased land and buildings by private management companies, and then being charged up to 25 per cent (and in one case 43 per cent) of their annual budget for rent (it isn’t difficult, is it, to see why there isn’t much money left for teachers and textbooks?).
We believe that schools are a community resource. They don’t belong to parents, who are transient stakeholders. Schools have a local history, a culture and a local future. Schools exist to serve a community. And they shouldn’t be run for profit.
This is not anti-capitalist; it’s about capitalism in its place. Our schools must encourage individual initiative and entrepreneurialism – but just not at the expense of other moral and social virtues.
Arguably we are not short of entrepreneurialism, but we are definitely short of care for others. The way a school is organised and managed will affect pupils’ attitudes. And when pupils see a school run for profit they will be encouraged to grow up knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Dr Mary Bousted is general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. Visit www.atl.org.uk